Friday, October 12, 2018
Lou Reed, John Cale, Andy Warhol
The Observer, 22nd April 1990
by Simon Reynolds
A frisson of excitement traversed the rock world last year when it was announced that Lou Reed and John Cale were working together for the first time since their days with Velvet Underground in the Sixties. Since then, Reed has gone on to refine the Velvets' New York street romanticism in an acclaimed solo career and Cale, a Welsh-born academy-trained musician, to production and composition.
What reunited these different characters after 20 years of musical estrangement was the idea of writing an elegy for Andy Warhol, their former mentor and friend. The result is Songs For Drella, a suite of 15 songs, which the two performed for four nights last December at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. Luckily, Channel 4 had the presence of mind to jet over to New York to film it.
Shot without an audience, but accompanied by Jerome Serlin's sombre back-projections of Warhol and his acolytes, Songs For Drella will be broadcast on Friday, while WEA Records has just released the album. With Reed on guitar, Cale on piano and violin, and both on vocals, the songs chart Warhol's life.
'Smalltown' is about his Pittsburgh background ("When you're growing up in a small town/You say no one famous ever came from here"). 'Images' and 'Style It Takes' describe Warhol's Sixties heyday as manager of the Factory, patron of the arts, and collector of bohemians and freaks, while 'It Wasn't Me' sees Warhol refusing to take the rap for the premature death of some of his creatures, like Edie Sedgwick.
Most of the songs are voiced in the first person singular, and attempt to see events through Warhol's eyes. Others are deeply personal expressions of Reed's feelings about the man/myth. 'I Believe', for instance, concerns Valerie Solanas's attempt to assassinate Warhol and sees Reed howling for retribution ("being sick is no excuse/I would have pulled the switch on her myself"). And the closing 'Hello It's Me' is both a poignant adieu to Warhol, and an expression of regret for not having talked while they could. It ends with an acknowledgement of unresolved bitterness: "There are resentments that can be never unmade... Your Diaries are not a worthy epitaph."
Songs For Drella, says Reed, is an attempt to create a fitting epitaph. "Andy was an extraordinary individual. After he died there was a spate of very negative, gossipy articles about him. The idea on this project was to do him justice. Andy was wonderful to get ideas from. Average ideas are always readily available, but extraordinary ideas you can only get from someone like Andy Warhol. John and I saw this as an opportunity to try to let people know about the real Warhol."
'Drella' was a nickname (a cross between Dracula and Cinderella) that Warhol himself disliked. But Reed is quick to quash the idea that there's anything double-edged in their use of the name. "It was a name that everyone in his intimate circle used and was purely affectionate."
The most moving song, 'A Dream', is an imaginary Warhol soliloquy that wryly incorporates reproaches against both Cale and Reed for giving him the cold shoulder during his twilight years: "I hate Lou, I really do... He won't even hire us for his videos... He got married and didn't invite me." Musically, the song sees Cale and Reed rekindling the magic of their turbulent partnership in Velvet Underground. Does Reed have any plans to work with Cale again soon?
"Every 20 years," smiles Lou Reed, then adds: "Please write down that 'he smiled'."